Monday, December 15, 2008

Concerning Canadian politrical (sic) runnings: desperate commentary (1)

Man, I'm not sure how many peeps know what a democracy is. Guys who vote for a party that has no platform, i.e., a party that has not told voters what they will do if they are elected, do not know what a democracy is. Dolls who rush to the polls and cast their ballots for the same politrical party, all the time, regardless, do not know what it is. Guys and dolls who stay away from the polls at election time (as was the case in the last federal election in Canada) do not know what it is. The bright sparks who say that it was the will of Canadians that the Conservatives form the government last time around do not know what it is. Any dude, even if he's a Prime Minister, who's not hip to the fact that elected representatives are free to advance radical political points of views (in this case separatist or secessionist views) emphatically does not know what it is.

Ah, but surely I jest! Every jitterbugger knows that a democracy is a country in which people freely choose their leaders.

Well, okay. So what if there's only one party or person to vote for? What if the votes are deliberately miscounted or some of them get tossed (as many people believe to have been the case in the US both times that George Bush was elected)? What if voting machines don't work properly? What if more peeps in a riding vote than are registered to vote? What if some Anansi voters mark their X more than once? What if the country is divided up, for voting purposes, so that a thousand peeps in one riding (constituency, electoral district) get to elect one representative while ten thousand peeps in another riding also get to elect just one representative? And in this last case, what if the party that wins in most ridings wins with fewer than half the number of peeps who marked their Xs? Where is democracy in all of that?

Man, de ting can seriously twist up your brain!

Which is why it helps to know a little math and to be wary of politrical types, and to bear in mind a few basic things. For example, though a dude or dudess may think so, he or she doesn't in fact choose a Liberal, or a Conservative, or a member of the Bloq, or the Green Party. You, my friend, and I, choose a person to represent us. We choose her based on the party she says she belongs to or the fact that he says he owes no allegiance to any party. But the person of our choice is free to have a change of heart and switch to another party. It's known as crossing the floor, and a sitting member (that is a dude or dudess who's been elected) may so do. And indeed may cross back. Selah!

Wherefore it is wise to choose with care…

There are also various ways of arranging how the chosen representatives of the people govern. In Canada, which is one of sixteen "Commonwealth realms," we've got a "parliamentary democracy" in which – listen for it – the Head of State is not the Prime Minister but the Queen (of England, chickens). The Queen's representative on our salubrious shores is the Governor General, whom Her Britannic Majesty selects, on the advice of the Prime Minister. At the present, Canada bids to have the hottest – or coolest, if you prefer – head of state in the world. Approchez, s'il vous plaît, Madame Jean! But lest you think the GG is merely another pretty figurehead face, there do arise occasions when the GG can send the Prime Minister packing. Indeed such a time just recently arose…

But we shall save that for our desperate commentary 2.

For now, this hip minute, let's check out just how the voting chips fell in the last Canadian federal elections. Stephen's Conservatives won 143 of 308 seats, Stéphane's Liberals won 76 seats, Gilles' Bloc Québécois won 50 seats and Jack's NDP 37. There were also 2 independents elected, that is, dudes who don't take tea with any party. We can describe those results in several ways, one way being that more ridings (165) did not want the Conservatives to form the government than wanted them to, because, dudes and dudesses, as we've pointed out before, only 22.22 % of eligible voters voted for the Conservatives: 77.88% of Canadians eligible to vote did not choose Harper's party.

So what in the good queen's name have we ended up with in our parliament? The truth is we've ended up with a Motley Crew who are free, according to our Constitution, to play political musical chairs, form coalitions, bring votes of confidence, and bring down the government on any financial or other important bill. This is all perfectly legal, and guards our freedoms. Though the Conservatives want us to believe the opposite, it ensures that nobody can hijack the government when there is no clear majority in parliament. And that is well. Selah!

Looked at in that way, statements about a 'mandate' appear a little different, and the statement that, "Canadians gave the Conservatives an increased mandate..." is – right, but not so right... Get it?

The Little Row House that eats up lots of energy...

Okay. This is my fourth try. Let’s hope I don’t lose the file yet again!

I know, jdid, there’s politics here and south of the border to talk about. Actually, these days my conversations about North American politics end up being diatribes about education. How can anyone be said to participate in a democracy without having a clear idea about how one's country is governed and the nature of the inputs one can make into that process? More on this in a bit.

This post is about old Toronto houses – or an old Toronto house. It’s one of a block of row houses, and similar to many such blocks all over Toronto. It’s a lovely little house, with a deck that looks out on a long skinny backyard garden, and a parking pad at the end that connects with a lane way so a car can park inside the premises. (Hate that word!) It’s got three bedrooms, one bathroom, modest living and dining areas and a nice big kitchen. The basement is partially finished. We own it, though sadly, given the economic climate, for how much longer, I don't know.

Row houses are clever. Joined at the front, living room to living room, they tuck in on alternate sides at the back so all the rooms can have windows on at least one side. But old row houses have one big minus. They are massive consumers of energy, and that’s the real burden of my present post. I’m hoping Al Gore, or David Suzuki, or David Miller, or Jack Layton, or Oprah or Michael Lee Chin or Raymond Chang or Robert Kennedy or the TD Green Mortgage CEO, or any green fan with funding will share my concern about making these hundreds of houses more energy efficient. They need insulation for the exterior walls and roofs. They need energy efficient windows and doors. They need energy star appliances. They need solar panels (those innocent of NF3, aka nitrogen trifloride – thanks to fsjl for the note below), barrels for collecting rainwater runoff, etc., etc.

The challenge is to make them into sustainable units, even if they can’t achieve zero footprint rating. I’d love to be involved in the effort. They could be rehabilitated a block at a time, and it would be a great way to educate neighbourhoods about greening.

So this is a shout out to any person or institution who may be interested in greening the row houses of Toronto. It would be great to hear from you.

Here’s the (lightly edited) note on NF3 from

Nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, is used for cleaning microcircuits during the manufacture of... modern electronics, including … thin-film solar panels, the latest (and cheapest) generation of solar photovoltaics. … Because industry estimates suggested that only about 2 percent of NF3 ever made it into the atmosphere, the chemical has been marketed as a cleaner alternative to other higher-emitting options. For the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively encouraged its use. NF3 also wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to be covered by the Kyoto Protocol, making it an attractive substitute for companies and signatory countries eager to lower their emissions footprints.

It turns out that NF3 might not be so green after all. “NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than … even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants,” according to a June 2008 study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine.